Gerry Rempel also serves as Castlegar's fire chief.

Gerry Rempel also serves as Castlegar's fire chief.

Venerable safety watchdog evolves, but continues

St. John Ambulance restructures due to dwindling volunteerism

After upwards of 70 years in Trail, SJA is closing its Trail branch and disbanding its local first-aid Brigade, citing a diminished volunteer-base as the primary reason for the branch closure  – but never think that means they’re turning their backs on the Kootenays.

“Of course we’ll still be delivering programs in the Kootenays with a new partner provider, Domcor Health Safety and Security, to service Trail, Castlegar, Nelson and area,” said SJA director of operations Carol Pilon. “We have a variety of St-John-Ambulance-certified partner providers (Safety Net Security, Staying Alive, Ghost Rider and College of the Rockies) throughout the region who will continue to deliver the high-quality courses people have come to expect from SJA.

The move, she said, should streamline customer service.

“We’re committed to our staff and volunteers in the region – and to the region itself,” Pilon said. Therapy Dog Services will continue as an offshoot of the Vernon program. She also said both current Trail staffers, instructor Billie Padavell and branch manager Kyra Hoggan, will both be continuing their relationships with SJA in other capacities.

However, the local first-aid Brigade that served the area for more than 70 years will be disbanded.

Trail’s own Mel Begley served as a first aid attendant with the Brigade for as many as 35 years, after getting involved with first aid through his job at Cominco, and he said it’s always been feast or famine when it came to recruiting volunteers.

“At one time, years ago, we had maybe a dozen members on the board, then it dwindled down to three or four,” said the 87-year-old SJA volunteer, adding he’s sad to see the Brigade stand down, but he doesn’t regret a moment of time spent in their service. “There were times when it was pretty much just me and Don (Nutini, also a decades-long Brigade and Branch Executive Committee volunteer) going to every event.”

These events included everything from Smokeaters games to Silver City Days, Winterfest, the annual Terry Fox Run, and even high school events throughout the area.

Current Brigade Superintendent Gerry Rempel said he, too, is sad to see this turn of events, but remains committed to St John Ambulance – the organization itself, and the values for which it stands.

“I’d also like to thank everyone who put time in with the Brigade or Branch Executive Committee; all the businesses that worked with and supported us over the years, all the organizations we were able to help and, finally, all the SJA staff I got to work with.”

It’s a sentiment with which Pilon said she agrees whole-heartedly.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the commitment and enthusiasm the community has shown us, that has kept our organization in the Kootenays for almost three-quarters of a century,” she said. “I think the take-away message to remember is that, while we’re closing the physical branch itself, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll continue to work in, and with, the Kootenays – hopefully for decades to come.”

For more information, contact Vernon Branch manager Jeff Nelson at 250-545-4200” or Domcor Health Safety and Security at 1-888-636-6267.